Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life Strategy in Reverse

Nowadays we strategize every upcoming event--or even possible event--before it arrives. To hear people talk, every day has a strategy, and every project is mapped out to the smallest detail in advance, in order, I suppose, to circumvent the annoying possibility of something getting in the way of the strategy.

I grew up pretty much letting things happen to me. My parents didn't have a strategy--they wuz too poor. They grew up in Alabama in the 1920s, were married at a tender age in 1931, and never had the luxury of planning much of anything. They hoped things would work out and used their brains to augment their good luck. I would say they were moderately successful, quite possibly because they never set the bar very high.

My father, Preston (son of the photog) my sister, my brother, and me.
Three children, a comfortable house on three and a half acres of beautiful land, enough money for food and the necessities. Not exactly the American dream, but as good a life as they could muster with the tools they had. Daddy was a self-made businessman who would loved to have made it big and Mama was a housewife who felt she had to make the most of her lot in life. Her children absorbed most of her time and energy, and she had the disposition to be pleasant about it. We all enjoyed making each other laugh; I think a good sense of humor gets one through a lot more than a good strategy probably does.

People didn't think of making memories then. They tried instead to find projects that they enjoyed, and share them with their families. That is, of course, where memories come from. It strikes me as the wrong image when I hear young couples today saying things like "This is a house where we can make memories--" because memories are not to be controlled. I suppose you could have a strategy to provide memories, but has it not occurred to them that the memories will come whether they are the ones you want or not? Assuming you can make them is like teaching an infant to roll over in the crib; he is going to do it one way or another and you might as well accept it.

I am at an age where memories haunt me all day long. I was cursed with Superior Autobiographical Memory and whole incidents are repeated in my brain without my trying to call them up. My memory is not the sort that can be accessed in the way some of us with SAM say: If you throw a date at me, I cannot say what I was wearing and at what I did at 9 A.M. on that particular morning. But I could probably give a pretty complete version of almost any year of my life, the details of which would astound even me. In my case the problem is to tamp down the onslaught of memories, for some of them I really don't enjoy reliving. On the other hand, some are quite gratifying and fulfilling just to think about.

It is time to shape those memories, to re-strategize them into some meaningful form. A book is what I'm thinking about, going back to early childhood and assessing the themes of my own memories, of my own life. I've started, but the opening of old wounds and the balancing of the good times with the bad times, the novelization of my many highs and lows--gives me pause and challenges my ability. I hope I can do it.


  1. I hope you can do it too, Mary Lois. I'd like to read it when you finish.

  2. Good piece, Mary. As a man who wishes mightily to forget certain things, I don't envy you.

  3. It will be a challenge. I like the idea of "the randomness of memory" maybe that's the way to write it. Randomly without order or purpose. Just random memories, some just a sentence, some a paragraph or two, some many pages. Got me thinking of my own Wild Hairs project... Good post.

  4. If you write just as you did in the blog, with honesty and no sugar coating it could be very interesting.

  5. I have random memories.

  6. These are issues my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians ( deal with all the time. Our past is a collection of memories as viewed through the filter of our own life. That's why any two siblings will have very different memories of a shared experience. It doesn't mean one memory is more correct than the other. For most of us, memories live in our brains in a random mess. One day you may recall (and write about) an event from 3rd grade; the next day, an event from your young adult years. There's nothing unusual or wrong about this - its the way our brains work. I hope you do start working on this project.